GLAAD Media Awards: "Freedom Fighter" Madonna Talks Special Connection With Gay Fans

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for GLAAD
Madonna

After accepting her Advocate for Change Award, the pop superstar opened up about her adoration for the LGBTQ community and using her platform to champion marginalized groups: "It's a total reciprocation."

The New York ceremony of the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards took place Saturday at the Hilton Midtown, where actors, musicians, news personalities and more gathered to celebrate fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBTQ community and the issues that affect their lives.

Although everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to the cast and creators of FX's Pose attended the starry affair, no one shone brighter than the Queen of Pop herself, Advocate for Change honoree Madonna. Even before she appeared seemingly out of nowhere toward the end of the event, silently slipping into her seat during an emotional speech from GLAAD CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis, Her Madgesty's name dominated red carpet conversations.

The evening's host, RuPaul's Drag Race alum Shangela — who at one point in the ceremony donned a cone bra bodysuit in homage to Madonna — told The Hollywood Reporter that the "Express Yourself" singer's award was long overdue.

"Madonna has stood with us for so many years. She's been an icon, an advocate, an ally. And I am very thankful to be here to not only join GLAAD in honoring her tonight but to celebrate all of her legacy," said Shangela, adding that support for the LGBTQ community from superstars like Madonna and Beyonce — who was honored with husband Jay-Z at GLAAD's Los Angeles event last month — is crucial.

She explained: "It means a great deal to the gay community as a whole because when you have someone who is so visible in the media, that so many people look up to and to hear them say, 'This is what's right in the world: Equality is right. Love is love.' When they do that, they start a chain reaction that helps us all out in the end."

Madonna made herself a visible ally and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community nearly four decades ago. At the very start of her career in the 1980s, she became one of the first notable names in entertainment to speak openly about the HIV/AIDS crisis that ravaged the gay community, demanding action when the epidemic was often ignored. Through AIDS benefit concerts and her creation of a benefit dance marathon, Madonna raised millions for those suffering from the life-threatening virus. In recent years, the performer has also publicly decried anti-LGBTQ laws in countries such as Malawi, Romania and Russia.

Madonna's efforts were cited by her pals and presenters Anderson Cooper, Rosie O'Donnell and Mykki Blanco, each of whom shared their fondest memories of the pop icon championing LGBTQ people before calling her to the stage to accept her award. As Madonna — dressed in a black matador-style pantsuit with sparkling embellishments — made her way to the podium, the entire crowd rose to their feet, clapping and cheering loudly as her new song, "I Rise," reverberated throughout the room.

When the noise died down, Madonna launched into a powerful oration in which she described losing close friends — including her beloved ballet teacher, Christopher Flynn, former roommate Martin Burgoyne and artist Keith Haring — to HIV/AIDS. "The plague that moved in like a black cloud over New York City and in a blink of an eye," she said as she snapped her fingers, "took out all of my friends … I decided to take up the bullhorn and really fight back." She continued, "Fighting for all marginalized people was a duty and an honor I could not turn my back on, nor will I ever."

Madonna closed out her speech with this line, referencing her upcoming 14th studio album, Madame X, for which she announced on Monday an accompanying theater tour: "As soon as you really understand what it means to love, you understand what it takes to become a human being and that it is every human’s duty to fight, to advocate, to do whatever we can and whatever it takes. Madame X is a freedom fighter."

After the show, Madonna elaborated on the sentiments she shared in her speech with THR and a select group of media outlets. Asked to detail the moment in her career she knew the LGBTQ community had a special connection with her and her work, the Grammy winner said that a tight bond was already formed prior to releasing her debut single, "Everybody," in 1982.

"Oh, gosh. Pretty much when I first got to New York and I started going to dance auditions and meeting other artists [and] dancers. A large amount of the dancers that I befriended were gay men who embraced [me]," she recounted to THR. "Coming from Michigan, I think people were a little bit put off by my outspokenness and my straightforward frankness. And [the LGBTQ community] embraced it. That was kind of how we hit it off."

Aware of how her music and advocacy has positively affected the lives of LGBTQ people, Madonna went on to say that she has also greatly benefitted from that portion of her fan base both as an artist and as a human being. "It's a total reciprocation because, like I said in my speech, they made me feel not afraid to be different. And then I made them feel not afraid to be different," she said. "And then I was blown away by people's bravery and courage and outspokenness and not bowing down to fear. And that, in turn, inspired me. So, it's just a full-on reciprocation, nonstop."

Along with Madonna, Andy Cohen was honored at Saturday's GLAAD Media Awards. The Bravo host was the recipient of the Vito Russo Award, given to out LGBTQ media professionals who have made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBTQ community.

New York's GLAAD Media Awards will air Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Logo. See the full list of winners here — and watch Madonna's acceptance speech below.